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‘Operating RPA is about maturity’

by Frederic Bergonzoli

Arnaud Greffet, manager of Safran Finance Services, the Finance Shared Services Centre (SSC) of the Safran group, shares his experience of the robotisation of processes.

How did you become interested in RPA?

I was behind the creation the Finance SSC, that we wanted to set up like a factory, bringing everyone together in the same place, but also beginning to think about how a virtual SSC would work, well before COVID came on the scene. We implemented and standardised QRQC and Lean management practices, and when we came to the end of these models, we sought to optimise our ERP by eliminating repetitive tasks through automation. The potential for RPA was clear.

How did you take on your project, with the help of a service provider or relying on internal resources?

I’ve never been a big fan of consultants who reinvent the wheel and who tell you how you should work in your own business. We simply consulted several publishers. But in the end the PoC that we launched with UiPath and Accenture was the deciding factor. It involved job representatives and IT personnel from Safran and programmers from these companies. We then progressed onto the formalisation of automation tasks which had already been highlighted through the Lean process, without the need to employ an external service provider, except for the robot programming component.

Which is the trickiest phase to complete when starting a RPA project?

RPA, first and foremost is about maturity, many companies purchase tools but don’t know what to do with them. At Safran, we didn’t entrust the RPA project to the IT department but rather to continuous improvement, as we are robotising a repetitive and mature process. One challenge is thinking that once in place, the RPA manages itself. This is not the case, you need to continue to monitor the processes, never stop looking after it. We could never think that a manager would stop looking after their teams, while at the same time robotisation is intended to replace living beings within the company.  The market evolves, as does legislation, it is necessary to keep a constant eye on RPA.

How long does it take to be able to operate a first robot?

Effective use of a robot takes one or two months. It is the work on the process, specifically its formalisation, rationalisation, optimisation which takes the most amount of time, programming a complex robot is done in a couple of weeks.

Which departments use RPA?

We have the equivalent of 150 robots allocated to accounts receivable and accounts payable. We are now looking at fixed assets. However, I voluntarily stopped the robot production because internally many people are not yet at the level. To avoid falling into the “it’s not me, it’s the machine” syndrome, it is necessary for people to be able to determine what they really expect from the robots and to be able to control what the robots do every day, always within the context of continuous improvement. Ideally, we need to have people who understand accounting or finance, who know how to programme and are knowledgeable about lean management. We are therefore going to provide the skills that they are missing before progressing further.

What ROI have you noticed?

A robot delivers ROI, quality or quality of life at work. ROI and quality are two fairly straightforward aspects to grasp, the quality of life at work is less so. For example, I can develop a robot so that a worker finishes their work at normal time, but what about the manager, who we know in France is not paid overtime? In this case, I don’t obtain ROI but quality of life at work… with the tools available today, we often oscillate between productivity and quality of life at work. At Safran, we would not have introduced 150 robots if that wasn’t efficient, but we never talk about the ROI or how many jobs we potentially reduce.

What are your next objectives?

Beyond improving the supply chain, notably to accelerate payment of suppliers, we have launched several workshops, particularly for process mining, on the one hand, to be able to employ tangible data and, on the other hand, to consolidate our compliance approaches. We also have 2023 in our sights, and the obligation to use electronic invoicing.

Learn more about RPA and finance at the round tables organised by the CFO Automation Experience

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